We've all heard about how quitting sugar is the next big thing. However, my question is, since it exists in virtually all foods we eat, how is it possible to live a life without it?
I've always been interested in a no-sugar diet, and wanted to try it out. So, what better way than to get a first-hand experience? I decided to put myself through a one week sugar-free diet.
A Word of Caution
Going into this challenge, I was prepared to cut sugar out completely. However, it does occur naturally in carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread and pasta.
According to dietician Kelsey Marksteiner of Healthy Gut Healthy Lifestyle, starving our body of carbohydrates causes it to increase levels of cortisol which is our "stress hormone." Together with exercise and life in general, the body becomes increasingly stressed, and eventually stops producing cortisol.
In other words, it is literally impossible to go on a sugar-free diet, but it is possible to go on a very low-sugar diet.
You Mean I Can't Eat Fruit?
I love eating fruits as a snack, and immediately began to worry how I would get through a week without my bananas, oranges, and nectarines. However, this thought did not last for long.
The difference between fresh fruit and fruit juice, for example, is that fructose in whole fruit contains enough fibre and nutrients to slow down the sugar release, making it safe to consume.
Here is a list of low-fructose fruits recommended, according to I Quit Sugar writer, Rachel O'Regan:
- Grapefruit, oranges, and lemons
- Raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries
- Honeydew melon
Pre-Challenge: Setting Goals
In preparing myself for this challenge, I wanted to know the supposed benefits of giving up sugar. It was a long list, and since most of these claims should probably be left to professional dieticians and nutritionists, I decided not to record any significant changes in weight.
Instead, I decided to focus on how going on a no-sugar diet would impact my mood, how easily achievable it is, and finally, how different my lifestyle would be after this week.
Pre-Challenge: Grocery Store
I found myself spending more money on fresh produce, and looking at the nutritional information on the backs of containers. I am a relatively large eater and eat regular meals, which requires me to buy a ton of groceries.
This week's costs turned out to be much higher than I had thought, which caused me to shed a tear or two. #RIPwallet.
Challenge: "Can I Eat This?"
One day into my sugar-free diet and I began stressing over what I could and could not eat. While I'm quite conscious of my diet, I've never paid a lot of attention to my sugar intake, much less hesitate when reaching for that extra slice of banana bread.
This week was already proving to be much harder than I had expected. I did, however, spend more time looking up sugar-free recipes online, and saw some pretty tasty-looking dishes which I decided to experiment with throughout the week.
Challenge: What I Ate
– Pan-fried tofu with brown rice and steamed vegetables
– Goat's cheese and avocado on chia-seed toast.
– Quinoa-kale salad with cherry tomatoes and onions
– Fried rice with peppers, broccoli and onions
Other foods not pictured:
- Pitza (pita bread pizza with broccoli, peppers and mozzarella cheese)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews)
- Whole wheat crispbread with ricotta cheese and strawberries
- Oven-baked cod with potato and pea mash
- Salmon quinoa patties with kale salad
Challenge: Stay Strong
Going out with friends became much more difficult, as all I could do was watch them eat without a care in the world. It seemed as though the temptation lingered in every corner, and I struggled to block out the voices at the back of my head forcing me to cave in.
Post-Challenge: How I Felt
I did notice myself getting crankier throughout the day, but instead of blaming it on my lack of sugar, I assumed it was due to the fact that I felt as though my freedom to eat whatever I wanted had been stolen.
Going on a sugar-free diet felt a little too stressful for me—not only does it require you to spend significantly more money on food, you'll probably end up obsessively checking the nutritional information on the back of packets or containers, and ain't nobody got time for that!
My biggest takeaway
From this experience, I gained a better understanding of the important role that sugar plays in our diet. Many of us college students prefer quick, easy, and affordable meals which makes going on a sugar-free diet seem like a nightmare.
I ended up spending a majority of my time at home cooking to make sure my meals were really sans-sugar. Even though it did taste delicious, it was way too time-consuming for me.
With that being said, following such a strict diet helped me find a balance in what I eat, and realize what foods I need and don't need in my life. I'm now trying to include more fresh food as I realize how much more tastier and satisfying it is compared to quick meals.
Ultimately, rather than cutting it out from your diet completely, perhaps a lower-sugar diet is a better idea. A sugar-free diet is not for everyone, and it is definitely not for me. With that being said, hats off to everyone out there making an active effort to adopt this lifestyle.